When Rosemarie Michaels was in college pursuing her teaching credential, her student-teaching experience was watched by professors from behind a one-way mirror.
“It was hugely intimidating,” she says.
But now, as an assistant professor and coordinator of the Liberal Studies and Multiple Subject Programs in the School of Education And Counseling Psychology at Dominican, Michaels has found a better way to enhance the student teaching experience of her students and ultimately improve the quality of teaching. She put her twist on the Japanese practice of the Lesson Study program and is coaching her own students – graduates and undergrads – side-by-side in an elementary school classroom.
“I’m watching my students but they see me there. I’m a supporter rather than an evaluator,” Michaels says. “Everyone in that room is learning.”
Michaels, who became a full-time instructor in 2010, has been teaching at Dominican for 20 years. In the fall of 2011, she returned to where she formerly taught, at Coleman School in San Rafael, to meet with school principal Ruth Reynolds and two elementary teachers, Lori Flanagan and Dominican alumna Chelsea Weighall. Armed with Dominican President Mary Marcy’s Strategic Initiative Fund grant to create a professional development partnership with Coleman School, Michaels sought an idea of how to best utilize it.
“She was the driving force in the partnership between Coleman and Dominican,” Reynolds says. “She wrote the grant, designed the program with help from the advisory team and implemented the program.”
Michaels is involved in every facet of it. She arranges for sessions to be videotaped. She organizes meeting rooms. She even provides food and refreshments to help facilitate the process.
Reynolds has witnessed Michaels’ impact first-hand and seen how Lesson Study has benefitted Dominican student teachers.
“They get to see teaching in action from a variety of classroom teachers. They see the thought process of the teacher and why they designed the lesson the way they did,” the Coleman School principal says. “Afterwards they get to debrief and ask questions of the teacher. They see a variety of lessons at different grade levels.”
Dominican’s Lesson Study Program has since expanded beyond Coleman to two other schools, one in the San Rafael School District and the other in the Novato School District. Last October, Michaels and students observed teachers and children interaction in a transitional kindergarten class at Loma Verde and, six months later, returned to see what the four-year-old kids had learned and how they progressed.
“It’s just fascinating. I love how everyone is embracing this and you can see the potential it has for the growth of our teacher candidates,” Michaels says. “More than anything else we’re doing, this works. It has everybody involved. The school principal. The college professor. The teacher. The students. The children.”
Dominican students are taught to know the 13 different teacher performance expectations (TPE) required by the state of California. The key element to the lesson study experience is that Dominican students are afforded time to meet with teachers for a half hour before and after observing each model lessons, in order to ask questions and to learn about the teaching thinking behind the planning of the lesson.
Before the lesson study, each teacher identifies her specific goal for that classroom session based on her pupils’ needs that showcases the best practices for the curricular area of focus. The teacher then prepares a lesson agenda for Michaels, the course instructor, and Dominican students.
Michaels and the teacher identify what TPEs Dominican students will focus on in the class then Michaels creates an Observation Focus Guide for the Dominican students. Michaels or the instructor of the class previews each lesson with her class, introduce the focus TPEs and presents the protocol for the lesson study session.
Once in the classroom, Michaels and the course instructor take the role of a coach and mentor, encouraging and advising students as they observe and participate in model lesson interaction in class. Immediately afterward, Michaels and her students meet with the teacher to analyze the session and assess their own learning.
“It’s the reality of teaching,” Michaels says. “I’m not in a classroom telling my students how to teach then they go off on their own. I’m there, too. I’m seeing what it’s really like. We’re all in this together. They’re all our students: the Dominican students and the elementary students.”
The Lesson Study Program at Dominican been such a success that Michaels now has students who are seniors eager to conduct and their own lesson study sessions in the classroom and pass on their knowledge and experience.
“Here we have our seniors teaching our freshmen and sophomore,” she says “It’s fabulous.”
Michaels in February attended the Association of Teachers Educators’ national convention in Atlanta. She presented a keynote titled “Lesson Study with Teacher Candidates: A Successful Approach To Guided Field Experiences.”
Unlike the Japanese Lesson Study version which allows for only teacher-to-teacher collaboration, Michaels’ Lesson Study protocol allows for undergraduates to connect with teachers.
“That’s the biggest piece. The teacher’s thinking. That’s huge,” Michaels says. “It’s all new to them. They love it. They learn so much just by talking with the teacher … This is where we are heading: every student in our program will have at least one lesson study experience each semester they are here. That means some students will have participated in 10 lesson study sessions by the time they graduate.”
Dominican student-teachers are then required to write an essay about their experience. There seems to be a common thread emerging in those papers:
Dominican student-teachers are seeing that children learn from each other and a teacher’s role is to set up and guide that learning environment. Undergraduate students are benefitting from seeing the classroom experience through the lens of a teacher, years before this normally occurs. They are understanding the TPE’s and are gaining confidence in their work with children.
Michaels sees so much potential in the Lesson Study Program that she wants to expand it outside Marin County and she plans to write a book about it. She is a proponent for connecting teachers with teacher candidates in an effort geared to enhance the teaching community and improve the venue of teaching in the future.
“It’s a gift of time,” Michaels says. “Time to talk to teachers before and after the lesson and time for Dominican instructors to be in actual classrooms side-by-side with our students making a difference.”